UPDATE Part 2 is here!!!
My wife and I host a Super Bowl Party every year. Each year the party seems to get bigger and bigger. I get a lot of questions at and after the party regarding my set up. “How do I do this”, type of questions. I thought it would be great to write up a detailed guide on how I set everything up. Let me give you a quick run down of what I have and what I wanted to accomplish. My system as a whole is very cheap, but I get a lot of bang for my buck. Here’s what I got; I have U-Verse, featuring the Total Home DVR system, but I also have a large collection of DVD’s that I have started to backup. I wanted this content on all my TV’s. I have a Projector, a Plasma, and Projection LCD. Ara from the HTGuys podcast chose to make Mac Mini’s the heart of his set up. Xbox 360′s are at the heart of my set up.
Visual Wiring Guide
First off I want to apologize for everything sounding very elementary, I wanted this to be easily understandable to everyone. Let me also say that the wiring diagram does not include surround sound wiring, nor does it include the wiring for my U-Verse setup. However, the surround sound wiring is pretty straight forward, I just ran the wires through the walls and out through the celling. The U-Verse part simply used my existing cable wiring and phone lines to connect the U-Verse system. All of the cables and wires were purchased from monoprice.com. If you are buying cables anywhere else, STOP. I opted for a wired connection to most of my devices I stream to. All of the ethernet wires are run through the wall, so there is no mess.
As you can see in my wiring guide, I have a Dell 2400MP projector and an 80″ homemade screen. The screen itself is MDF with several coats of primer and paint. The surrounding frame is painted flat black and wrapped in felt. The screen is very smooth and I get great results. I am about to add some ScreenGoo to give me even more contrast. I have a 360, a PS3, and U-Verse box all using component and optical cables. These cables run into a switcher which allows me to easily have multiple devices on one input. The Harmony 520 remote makes it easy to press one button and have everything turn on. These remotes are cheap, easy to use, and I have one in every room. The optical out from the switch connects to my surround sound system. I can stream Netflix movies, and access content on my computer, all through the Xbox 360. Not to mention playing Gears of War 2 on an 80″ screen is not too shabby either. I can also access most of the same content on the PS3, but I primarily use it as a Blu-Ray player.
There is not as many wires running through the walls in this room. I got a 52″ Panasonic Projection LCD couple of years ago, and it only has 1 HDMI input. I have an HDMI switch that takes care of the multiple inputs for me and handles all the switching. This is the most complicated part about this system as I have my U-Verse DVR and Sony Blu-Ray player both running into the the switch. The optical runs out of the TV and connects to my surround sound system. If I want to stream from my computer, I just hook up the MacBook to HDMI switch and fire up Boxee. Boxee is a great media center program that also gives me access to my content as well as other great content available on the internet (I’ll talk more about it in Part 2). Again, this is all controlled with 1 Harmony Remote. This room is my only room that is wireless. I was worried about the streaming ability of the wireless connection, but to my surprise it works just as good though.
This room has the least going on. I have an awesome wife that bought me a second 360 for valentines day. This 360 is primarily used for streaming my content, and streaming Netflix movies. This is a great way to add media center like functionality with very little cost. This 360 is the arcade unit, and it also has HDMI built right in. If I want to play games I just pop my 360 hard-drive from my other 360 in, and start playing. The 360 and my U-Verse receiver are running into another HDMI switcher. It is all being controlled by a Harmony Remote.
This room is my project room. I have got and old Dell lying around, so I loaded Ubuntu on it (Windows is outlawed) and loaded up Boxee. I also have a PowerMac G4 that I’m not using. I might end up swapping the Dell with the Mac. I have a 19″ monitor hanging on the wall. We will use this as a TV for that room. Again this is my project room, so things will probably change several more times before the baby comes, but I enjoy figuring out solutions.
The office is the central hub for this little setup. The content on my network is being shared from my MacPro. Again, the direct connection to the AirPort Extreme makes it easy for me to share 1080P videos over the network with ease. I wanted to have all the devices that I don’t need to see, well outta sight. So all of the network devices are in the closet. I have room in the closet, so I can continue to add pieces to the mix and have space for them.
What I want to add next
Of course one of the first things I want to upgrade is my surround sound systems. I am partial to Onkyo, and I want a 7 speaker surround sound system with multiple HDMI inputs. Next I want to pick up a sound bar system for my bedroom. I really don’t want to deal with surround sound speakers and wires in the bedroom, so a sound-bar is really tempting. One of the next big items I am going to add to the house is speakers in every room of the house. This would be great to play my iTunes library over the entire house. My plan is to place the main receiver in the office closet, but I still haven’t figured out exactly what I need and how much control I need in each room. If anyone wants to weigh in, feel free. The baby’s room is going to eventually contain a webcam that is always running. That way we can easily video monitor the baby through our computers. I might end up adding a MacMini to that room to make it easier for a much cleaner solution. However I still haven’t decided between using a webcam/iChat, or an IP network camera solution.
Using 360′s are great ways to extend media center functionality on your network without costing an arm and a leg. If you shop right and do all the wiring yourself, then you can have a system like mine for a small price too. For example I only paid around 2400 for everything in my media room.